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East County Filmmaker Makes Bid For Sundance

October 6, 2014 3:37 a.m.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando finds out what it takes to submit a film to Sundance by speaking with filmmaker Jesse Keller about "The Thane of East County."

Related Story: East County Filmmaker Makes Bid For Sundance


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: San Diego filmmakers have a good track record at Sundance. SDSU graduate Destin Cretton (pronounced CRET-ton) scored twice with “I am not a Hipster” and “Short Term 12.” KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando checks in with East County resident Jesse Keller as he prepared to submit his film to Sundance for its upcoming January festival.

For independent filmmakers, Sundance is the Holy Grail.

JESSE KELLER: Sundance is the gold standard of film festivals and getting into that would be such a great jump up to the next level for a little film like ours.

Jesse Keller’s film is “Thane of East County.” It’s about a modern day theater company in San Diego doing a production of Macbeth and the actors’ lives start to mirror those of the characters.

JESSE KELLER: Who better to rip off than Shakespeare, you really can’t go wrong.

Keller’s been editing his film eight to twelve hours a day since shooting wrapped on August 22nd in order to meet the Sundance deadline.

JESSE KELLER: Been working like crazy on this thing. I have four days until it has to be at the Sundance office in LA so there is an online upload or I have to Fed Ex a DVD… Sundance explicitly forbids filmmakers from showing up at their offices. I would love to just drive up and stick it through a mail slot on Wilshire Blvd.

Keller’s plan is to submit the film online on the morning it’s due.

JESSE KELLER: So Sundance gets I think they said 10,000 submissions a year. And I’m guessing a helluva lot of those happen at the last minute so if several thousand people are all trying to upload a feature film on the same day, I hope they got the band width for that thing otherwise there’s going to be some people freaking the hell out.

Last Monday at 7am, Keller was one of those people freaking out as he explains in a webcam video.

JESSE KELLER: The upload has failed… So something is totally wrong with this upload online screener service and there are a lot of very pissed off people that are discovering that their submissions for their films that they have worked on so hard for Sundance that there submissions are just not going through at all so I am burning a DVD right now and I am going to hop in my car drive up to LA and walk into the Sundance office with it. That’s my plan.

As an independent filmmaker, Keller is all too familiar with having to resort to a plan B and be creative with problem solving. It also helps to have a crew truly invested in the project.

JESSE KELLER: My mom gets an executive producer credit on this thing because she was helping. When we needed an RV she got us an RV and got it delivered to the location the day we needed it so it takes a village.

That village included support from people who contributed $25,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, which ended just a week before shooting began.

JESSE KELLER: Watching that money come in and then just spiral out of the bank account in the course of like a month that’s a pretty amazing sensation. To watch it go from that down to nothing!

But as Keller assembles a first cut of his film he’s finally seeing where that $65,000 budget went.

JESSE KELLER: Putting in music is such a sense of relief because you set everything up and with no music, everything feels so much slower in a movie so once you get that first assembly on the timeline and you watch it and you go oh god is it going to be too slow, is this not going to work but then you put in the music and you go oh that’s right, it’s totally going to work. This is great.

CLIP All hail Than of fife…

JESSE KELLER: Basically it’s a movie that I love and believe in and I want people to see so the dream is getting it in front of eyeballs.

Which brings us back to Sundance and getting “Thane of East County” submitted for consideration. Keller found himself on the road last Monday but not driving to the Sundance offices.

JESSE KELLER: It is done and I didn’t even have to drive to LA to do it. I managed to get in touch with someone from the Sundance Institute, and they told me that I could submit it a day late because I am one of whole ton of people that are having that exact same issue with the online submission process so Fed-Exed it, and I am on my way home. Now it’s all in the hands of Sundance.

All Keller can do now is wait to find out if his film will make the cut for the Sundance Festival coming up in January of 2015.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.